Former Vice President Joe Biden
announced his presidential candidacy on Thursday and joins the crowded Democratic field as the early frontrunner.
Biden has a sizeable lead over Sen. Bernie Sanders
(I-Vt.), the second-place contender, thanks to his high name identification after serving eight years as Barack Obama
’s vice president.
He also enjoys a 72 percent approval rating among registered Democrats, according to a recent Monmouth University poll.
Nonetheless, a number of challenges face Biden and his campaign.
Here are seven big decisions Biden faces while seeking his party’s nomination.
Whether to support impeaching Trump
Biden will face an early litmus test on impeachment.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren
(Mass.) on Friday became the first Democratic presidential candidate to call on the House to impeach Trump. Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro
and Sen. Kamala Harris
(D-Calif.) have joined Warren, but not every candidate has jumped on the bandwagon.
Party leaders fear the move will backfire politically, as it did on Republicans when they impeached President Bill Clinton
in 1998. Speaker Nancy Pelosi
(D-Calif.) has sought to keep a tight lid on impeachment.
Large chunks of the liberal base, however, are eager to punish Trump for the conduct outlined in special counsel Robert Mueller
’s report. And Biden could face pressure to back impeachment from Democrats who question whether he is liberal enough for the base.
One way out for Biden would be to join Pelosi in calling for investigations of Trump but backing away from impeachment.
Democratic strategist Tad Devine, who advised John Kerry
’s 2004 and Sanders’s 2016 presidential campaigns, suggested Biden would stick to a pragmatic approach, while arguing it is something “the Republican Senate will never agree to.”
“I would make a very pragmatic, practical argument about it and say, ‘I think what he’s done in the office is disgraceful. His actions really constitute an impeachment inquiry. I think the Congress should investigate it, everything that’s gone on. But we’ve got too much to do for people today to let Trump tie up government the last two years of his term,’” said Devine.
Should he announce a running mate early
Advisors to Biden caused a buzz in March when they floated the idea that he could pick Stacy Abrams as his running mate before even entering the race.
Abrams knocked the idea down, saying “you don’t run for second place” and suggesting she could run for president herself.
But it hasn’t killed the idea that Biden could pull a surprise by seeking to pick a running mate early as a way of casting his campaign as a unity ticket.
Picking an African-American or female vice president early could also help Biden with voters not keen on backing a white man who would be 78 when entering the Oval Office.
But some Democratic strategists warn such a play could backfire.
Steve Jarding, a Democratic strategist who ran the leadership PACs of past presidential hopefuls such as former Sens. Bob Kerrey (D-Neb.) and John Edwards (D-N.C.), warned it could “look more gimmicky than real.”
“It has an air of entitlement, which I think is an enemy of Biden, not a friend,” he said. “He’s got to earn this thing and if he starts announcing, ‘I’ve got a running mate already,’ I think the Democratic electorate could actually go in the other direction and say, ‘Who the hell does this guy think he is? You’ve got to earn this like everybody else.’”
Whether to endorse liberal proposals such as “Medicare for All” and free college
The skepticism surrounding Biden’s ability to win the Democratic primary largely surrounds questions of whether he is liberal enough for a grassroots moving to the left.
That means Biden will have to decide whether to embrace proposals popular on the left, such as “Medicare for All” and the Green New Deal.
At least five Senate Democrats running for president have co-sponsored the single-payer Medicare plan, and six Senate Democrats have backed the climate change proposal.
Biden, however, also wants to make the case that he is the most electable candidate in states such as Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania. Embracing liberal positions could hurt him down the road in a general election.
“Addressing a whole host of progressive issues and legislation for Biden is going to be a major challenge from day one and it’s not clear yet if he has answers for some, or any of them,” said one Democratic strategist who requested anonymity.
Whether to hold high-dollar fundraisers and accept help from super PACs
The influence of money in politics and the power of wealthy special interests is a sensitive subject among Democratic primary voters. Candidates such as Warren have tried to build their grassroots credentials by eschewing wealthy donors.
Biden, however, faces real questions about his grassroots fundraising ability.
He may need to depend on large donors. Indeed, one of Biden’s first campaign events will be a big-dollar fundraiser Thursday night sponsored by supporters such as Comcast executive David Cohen, according to The Washington Post.
This shows Biden has already made the decision on big donors. But what about super PACs?
Biden said he counseled Sanders ahead of the 2016 election to shun super PACs, warning that their support could erode his ability to appeal to working class voters.
“I sat with Bernie,” Biden told PBS’s Judy Woodruff last year. “I’m the guy that told him, you shouldn’t accept any money from a super PAC, because people can’t possibly trust you. How will a middle-class guy accept [you] if you accept money?”
Devine, who worked on the 2016 Democratic primary in which Super PAC-funded attacks became an issue, said Biden should stay away from them in the primary but reserve the right to accept their help in the general election against Trump.
“In the Democratic primary, for him to use Super PACs to advance his candidacy I think would be a real liability,” he said. “However, in a general election against Trump he should be clear that he isn’t going to unilaterally disarm.”
A major Democratic donor who requested anonymity to discuss Biden said, “This is definitely going to be a big test for him.”
“Does he have what it takes to compete with folks who are much better at fundraising than he is and can he attract small dollar donors, because that’s one of the best indicators of enthusiasm and I’m not sure there’s a ton of enthusiasm for him compared to other candidates,” the source said.
How to handle allegations of inappropriate conduct with women
Democratic strategists say the allegations that Biden inappropriately touched or invaded the space of several women are not behind him.
Biden needs to figure out what else he needs to do to address what could become a simmering issue with women voters.
Biden addressed the complaints in a video posted on social media in which he tried to defend his touchy-feely tendencies by arguing that “in my career, I’ve always tried to make a human connection” and then promised to “be much more mindful.”
But the gesture of contrition was undermined, some critics said, by a joke he later made during a labor rally when he quipped that he had permission to put his arm around a young boy on stage.
Democratic strategists and donors say the issue hasn’t been put to rest.
“I don’t think it’s something to make light of. I think he has to be serious about it. He has been serious at times and he’s been less than serious at other times,” said Devine.
“The way he has to handle it is by recognizing that there’s an issue there. He did so when he did that video, he said he understood. I think he has to manifest that understanding now,” he added. “I think he should do something about it, which is the way he comports himself or anybody in general.”
Another Democratic strategist, Zac Petkanas, predicted “it’s something that he’s going to have to deal with for the rest of the campaign.”
He said Biden would be smart to show he’s taking the allegations more seriously.
“He certainly needs to stop joking about it to indicate that he takes it seriously and as seriously as a number of the statements he made which drew praise from #MeToo activists,” Petkanas said.
One Democratic donor, who requested anonymity to discuss the party frontrunner, said Biden will have to field questions about conduct over and over.
“In the #MeToo movement, this is going to keep rearing it’s ugly head and he better have a strategy about dealing with it or it’s going to be the equivalent of Hillary’s emails,” the source said.
How to defend his record
Biden served 36 years in the Senate, giving him a long record for opponents to pick at and attack.
The highest-profile controversies from Biden’s Senate career are his handling of the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings and the testimony of Anita Hill, his role in passing the 1994 crime bill and his vote for the Iraq War.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein
(Calif.), the top-ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee and a Biden supporter, told The Hill last month that Biden would have handled the Thomas-Hill hearings differently if he could do it all over again.
“He’s going to really have to develop if he gets to be president a way of reaching out and doing things differently,” she said, adding “I think he would say he’d do it differently today.”
The crime bill, which has been blamed for the mass incarceration of African Americans, has also become a potential liability for Biden.
Speaking at a breakfast event commemorating Martin Luther King Jr. in January, Biden said his role in mandating harsher sentences for crack cocaine possession was “a big mistake.”
“It was a big mistake that was made,” he said at the event, according to the Associated Press. “We were told by experts that ‘With crack you can never go back.’”
Another vulnerability is Biden’s support for the Iraq War, a vote that derailed Clinton’s 2008 presidential primary run against Obama.
Jim Kessler, a former aide to Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer
(N.Y.) and a vice president at Third Way, a centrist Democratic think tank, said Biden should embrace his record as evidence of his ability to get things done.
“He’s got a very long record, which is both a strength and it has drawbacks,” Kessler said. “The strength is for people who are longing for someone in the White House who can get something done, he answers that call.
“He was very effective as a United States senator, he was very effective in the White House,” he added. “The downside is that not every Democrat is going to agree with some of the decisions he made or the legislation he championed.
“His challenge will be selling voters on, ‘I’m the person who can restore some sense of civility and some functionality in Washington, DC,’ and that could be a very powerful message for him but time will tell.”
How to handle concerns about his age
Biden has the strongest résumé and the most experience in federal office than any of his rivals but he will have to repeatedly face down the criticism that he is a politician of the past, and not the future.
“Every election is about the future,” Kessler said. “He would have to respond to that just like any other candidate would have to respond to it. Bernie Sanders does too.
“It’s not just age, it’s whether your ideas are about the future as well,” he added.
Trump is the oldest person to ever have been elected but if Biden, who is 76, wins the White House, he would set a new record.
It’s a doubt that Sanders, who is 77, also has to overcome.
Sanders admitted last year that “age is a factor” but argued earlier this year that a candidate shouldn’t be judged on their color, gender or how old he or she is.
Rodell Mollineau, a Democratic strategist who served as a senior aide to former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid
(D-Nev.), said Biden can dispel concerns about his age by showing energy on the campaign trail.
“You have to show vitality through your campaign schedule,” he said. “The work you put into your campaign and the work the vice president will put into his campaign should answer that question for folks.
Even so, Mollineau predicted “it’s not going to stop the media from continuing to ask it or probably some of the other candidates trying to bring it up.”
He said “electorate is kind of split on that” noting that many senior senators are in their 70s and 80s while at the same time there are young members who are in their 30s and 40s.
–This report was updated at 6:10 a.m.
Seven big decisions facing Biden in 2020 primary
Former Vice President Joe Biden